Jewish U.S. philanthropist investigated over inappropriate remarks

A spokesman for Hillel International told The Jerusalem Post that the organization is not commenting on the story.

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September 14, 2018 14:32
2 minute read.
MICHAEL STEINHARDT

MICHAEL STEINHARDT. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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The Hillel International campus organization for Jewish students has initiated an internal investigation into alleged inappropriate comments to two women by renowned philanthropist Michael Steinhardt, The New York Jewish Week reported on Thursday.

According to the report, a Washington DC law firm specializing in such allegations is representing one of the two women employed by Hillel International who has made the claims, and the firm, Katz, Marshall & Banks, corroborated the story.

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The second woman to allege that Steinhardt made inappropriate comments, also an Hillel International employee, received a written apology from him in August 2011, the report states.

Steinhardt is a major donor to Hillel International having given the organization millions of dollars, as well as to other Jewish causes in the US and Israel, with gifts amounting to tens of millions of dollars to various programs and institutions, especially Birthright.

A spokesman for Hillel International told The Jerusalem Post that the organization is not commenting on the story at all. It did not provide a response to the original Jewish Week article either.

The report also included allegations about what would constitute highly inappropriate comments made by Steinhardt to a female art consultant with whom he met in May 2017 when considering the purchase of an extremely valuable piece of art.

Steinhardt was finishing a meeting with a rabbi when the art consultant entered his office, and Steinhardt allegedly said to her that he would pay the full asking price if she had sex with the rabbi in a nearby hotel.

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Steinhardt told The Jewish Week that “When an art dealer pressured me to buy a piece I didn’t want, I made a sarcastic joke when in retrospect the proper thing to do was just politely decline.”

The consultant said in response that she did not see his comments as a joke and that “He was trying to make me uncomfortable. He was showing who was ruling the tone of the room.”

In reference to the Hillel International investigation, Steinhardt told The Jewish Week that the women making the allegations “can’t be accusing me of anything other than words… Words are not necessarily innocent,” he continued, but said that they are not in the category of “touching or grabbing.”

“I tend to be provocative and say what I think…And I kid around… like offering people a million dollars if they find a husband” for a fellow major donor who has been widowed for many years.

The Jewish Week noted that Steinhardt’s name has been removed from the Hillel International organization’s list of International Board of Governors on its website, and is not seeking a $50,000 grant the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life had planned on giving this year.

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